Country of Origin: Vietnam
Current Location: Sacramento, Calif.
When she was 9 years old, Linh Vu did not have toys to play with. Instead, she and her six younger siblings passed the time playing “Escaping Vietnam”: They pretended the floor was water, and they jumped across couches and tables, trying to escape imaginary bombs. It’s not the kind of game every 9-year-old is used to, but it was all Vu knew back in 1975.
Her family had left Vietnam just a few months earlier. “The boats around us were exploding and all the people we knew around us were dying... We went down under the bottom deck and we all prayed. We didn’t know where we were going. All we knew is that we just have to go out to sea and pray that we hit land. It didn’t matter what country,” she recalls.
Vu’s family went from a U.S. military base in Guam to a refugee camp in Pennsylvania before resettling in the San Francisco area with the help of extended family. Once there, Vu started fifth grade. Her father, who used to be a school principal in Vietnam, started a job as a school janitor.
“I would cry every day because it was so scary,” says Vu. “My teacher, Mr. Mason, was anti-Vietnam War so he didn’t treat us very well. He just sat me in the corner of the room and basically ignored me every day. I always felt like an outsider.”
Vu’s limited English made her especially lonely in the classroom. Her parents’ divorce a few years later left Vu feeling isolated within her family, too.
Now, Vu is an elementary school teacher who lives in Sacramento, Calif., with two children.
“In Vietnam, you’re not supposed to talk to your parents. You’re being talked to; you’re not supposed to talk back.” she says. “I was never close with my parents, so I hope that [my children] have an emotionally safe place to fall or someone they can talk to, because I was never able to do that. I was always in my head.”
Vu’s old memories from Vietnam are limited to the plump fruit trees in her backyard, the sturdy brick fence surrounding her one-story house, and the deafening bombs. She no longer feels attached to the place she once called home.
“I’m OK with never visiting Vietnam,” Vu says. “I don’t have a lot of attachments or memories. Like how people go back and say ‘Here’s where I lived!’ But I don’t know where I lived. Everyone I knew from Vietnam is gone.”